Just as it was last year, AC Milan’s midfield department is an intriguing situation to assess ahead of the 2020-21 season.
Head coach Stefano Pioli knows what he wants, and even said as much. After Milan’s 3-0 win over Cagliari to end the season, he admitted the need to address the depth situation in the engine room.
“The midfield department cannot be made up of only two starters, but four starters. 22 starters will be needed, it will be necessary to raise the level of the whole team,” he said in the post-match press conference.
It is essentially a demand that two players arrive, as Lucas Biglia has left due to the expiry of his contract and Rade Krunic does not seem to be part of Pioli’s plans despite not doing anything wrong in particular in the during the 530 minutes of Serie A action he was given.
At the moment, it seems as though Tiemoue Bakayoko of Chelsea is the most concrete target and also a very obtainable one, given that multiple outlets have reported his desire to return and that a salary has already been agreed.
That is the deputy to Franck Kessie sorted. We all know that Bakayoko is a monster of a presence on his day, covering ridiculous amounts of ground like the Ivorian and performing a very specific role oriented around protecting the back four and winning the ball back with intelligent pressing and well-timed tackles.
Given that Milan look set to play over 50 games next season (presuming they reach the Europa League groups stages), Bakayoko will find plenty of room for game time, but what it does mean is the a back-up to Ismael Bennacer is also important, someone complimentary to either the Frenchman or to Kessie.
The solution may be in-house, too. Tommaso Pobega is a name that is getting increased media attention, with several sources claiming Pioli and the management intend to assess him in preseason before making a decision regarding a stay in the senior squad.
The 21-year-old spent the 2019-20 campaign on loan at Pordenone in Serie B, amassing five goals and four assists in his 31 League matches. This has apparently attracted the interest of Sassuolo and Hellas Verona, and this in itself should be indicative of the calibre of player the Italian is developing into.
Pobega has been part of Milan’s youth sector since 2013 and has had a couple of useful loan spells – at Ternana and Pordenone – in the last two seasons which have perfectly aided his development by providing a step up to the senior game.
Now, the time could be right to integrate him properly into the senior side as what would be a ‘fourth choice’ midfielder. There are those who would say it is perhaps a step too far too soon for the youngster, but the natural progression from Serie C in 2018 to Serie B last season means the next stage is the big one.
Pobega’s playing style suggests that he could be an ideal rotation option too. He has quite a few similarities to Bennacer in that he is quick into tackles, tenacious in his approach, wins the ball back often very cleanly and can lead the charge in counter-attacks when needed.
In addition, the Primavera product has effect long-range distribution which is another tool to add to his box of tricks, and he is also physically more imposing than the Algerian due to his height, making him very tough to push off the ball.
Pobega is perfect for the mezzala or box-to-box role, as he drives play forward and pops up at the right time to contribute in the attacking phase, but ultimately while never forgetting his defensive responsbilities.
Everything points towards Bakayoko-Pobega growing into a very solid deputy midfield pairing, and having Pobega in and around the squad will raise his level too as he would be learning from three fellow midfielders who each have their own set of traits.
There could also be an argument that loaning Pobega out again – perhaps to a lower-end Serie A side – would be more advantageous and Krunic could instead be that fourth man, but selling the Bosnian for the €8m fee reported to boost transfer funds and using a player six years younger who can potentially be just as effective is simple and smart business.
Elliott Management Corporation are all about looking after the balance sheets, and this is the perfect opportunity to show faith in the youth project by giving a talented young player an important opprtunity.